Michelle Harvey has been working to incorporate Indigenous learning into her classroom and encourages her students to explore how they self-identify and what that means in the context of their communities. Harvey teaches Grade 9 social studies and Grade 10 geography at Vincent Massey High School in Brandon, Man. With 21 years of teaching experience, Harvey has had time to refine and evolve her craft. Her humanitarian approach to teaching focuses on bringing out the best in her students through critical-thinking and creative projects.
On making connections between the classroom and community
One of the programs I do with students is called Community Sharing. We pick four different groups that we want to help, based on a traditional Indigenous medicine wheel, and then we work toward that. My students decided to focus on babies, youth, adults and elders.They’re going to do donations to Samaritan House, our local food bank. They’ve chosen different things for each section of people. For babies, they’re looking to bring in a jar of baby food or formula. For youth, they’re going to donate T-shirts. For adults, they went with hygiene products and for elders, they’re bringing in packages of cookies. We’re going to focus more on infusing that Indigenous thinking of how everyone provides for and shares within their community.
On incorporating Indigenous history and knowledge
I’ve been covering residential schools and survivors for about nine years, and its been in our curriculum for a number of years. I’m trying to infuse more, rather than just talk about that one topic. For this generation, they come in with some knowledge, but how do we move forward from that, making them aware. For example, I start with an introduction saying that we’re on Treaty 2 territory.
This is a bit of a personal journey for me as well. My family is Métis and I lived in a Métis community, but we didn’t practise Métis culture, and now in my forties I’m learning about it. That’s something that’s important to me. There’s validity in trying to educate students about this, not just non-Indigenous but also for Indigenous students reconnecting with that, because some of them are removed from their communities, that background of their culture and traditions. If I can do that in pieces, maybe that can help them reconnect earlier rather than in their forties.
We did a map for the kids to self-identify and I was very surprised at the number of Indigenous students that don’t openly speak about being Indigenous but that popped up within my classroom. I hope that when students walk out of my class, if they see something that they could change in the world, that they wouldn’t be scared to try it. Whether that’s donating to the food bank once a year or adopting a family at Christmas time for Christmas Cheer. Or maybe it’s as simple as “I want to take care of my family.” Self-identity is important for being part of your community.
On challenging students to think critically
In our Grade 9 course, we look at social injustices within Canada, such as homelessness or poverty. Students research it and look at what’s currently being done to try and solve those issues within our country. Then we challenge them to come up with their own idea of what they could do to change that situation. They have to come up with a plan, what area of people they are going to focus on and how are they going to do it. They can look at it from a country point of view, our province or our city. We get them to think outside of their own little world.
On how teaching is evolving
I think what has changed the most with geography is trying to stay current. We have so much information fired at us. As teachers, we go, “This curriculum wants us to do this, and this is what the kids are interested in, so this is what we need to talk about.” When we talk with students about Canadian government, they can talk about it somewhat, but they totally know what’s going on with Trump because it’s such a social media piece. It’s about teaching them the validity of the information that they’re getting. Social media is fantastic, but you can’t just jump on the bandwagon without researching. We’ve changed so much in how we teach. The facts stay the same, but you constantly move forward and do things in different ways. The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing that light of enthusiasm in kids when they get something new or realize that they can push the limits of what they can do.